The American crow is one of the most widely distributed birds in North America. Despite historic persecution through poisoning, hunting, and other means, these members of the Corvidae bird family are highly adaptable and continue to thrive in many areas. As birders learn more crow facts and information, they are often surprised at how clever, flexible, and innovative American crows can be.
- Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
- Common Name: American Crow, Common Crow, Crow
- Lifespan: 7-8 years
- Size: 18 inches
- Weight: .7-1.4 pounds
- Wingspan: 35-40 inches
- Conservation Status: Least concern
American Crow Identification
At first it might seem simple to identify the American crow as a large, all-black bird, but these birds look very similar to other corvids and grackles and it can be difficult to get a positive identification. Birders who are familiar with this widespread bird's key field marks and other attributes will feel more confident about identifying crows. First, the bill is thick and black, with a stout shape ideal for a wide range of foods. Male and female birds are identical with allover black plumage that may show blue-violet iridescence in bright sunlight. Feathers on the throat are short and smooth. The relatively long legs and feet are also black, and the eye is a dark brown that frequently appears black. In flight, these birds show a square-tipped tail that is straight across, and rare individuals may show white wing patches, though the amount of white may vary. Wings in flight often have joints pushed prominently forward.
Juveniles look similar to adults, but may show a slightly shaggier, unkempt appearance.
These birds are best known for their familiar "caw-caw" call that has a raspy, hoarse quality. The pitch, tempo, and length of the call can vary, as well as the number of repetitions. A rapid rattle is also common, and American crows have been known to mimic other birds' calls and non-bird sounds.
American Crow vs. Common Raven
The American crow is often confused for the common raven, but with practice it is easy to tell these two black corvids apart. Crows are significantly smaller than ravens, and ravens show a much shaggier throat where crows have smoother feathers. Crows have slender, more pointed bills compared to the heavier, somewhat curved bills of ravens, and crows have a different voice than their raven cousins.
American Crow vs. Fish Crow
The fish crow is another bird that is often confused with American crows. Range is a good indication of which bird is which, however, as American crows are much more widespread throughout the United States and Canada, whereas fish crows are only common in the southeastern United States or along the Atlantic coast. American crows are slightly larger than fish crows, and the "caw-caw" call of American crows is distinctly different from the rasping "cah" or "cah-ah" call of fish crows.
American Crow Habitat and Distribution
The American crow is found year-round throughout the continental United States in many habitats with the exception of very heavy forests or the most arid deserts. During the summer, the breeding range extends to include most of Canada except the extreme north. Highly adaptable, American crows prefer open or sparsely wooded habitat such as agricultural areas, but they can become urbanized and are frequently seen on golf courses, athletic fields, parking lots, and landfills.
American crows do not migrate, though vagrant sightings are occasionally recorded in the southwestern United States, outside the bird's typical range.
These are highly intelligent birds that have shown problem solving skills in lab settings, typically for gaining access to food. In the wild, they will mob and dive bomb hawks, owls, herons, and other intruding birds, and some crows seem to instigate mobbing as a form of play or entertainment, even harassing cats or dogs. These birds will collect shiny objects and often store them in their nests. In the winter, they can form large flocks of more than a million birds, and even in summer they are rarely solitary, especially if food sources are abundant.
Diet and Feeding
Crows are opportunistic omnivores and will sample just about any available food source. This includes insects, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, eggs, mollusks, seeds, fruit, carrion, and garbage or kitchen scraps. They often seek out more easily available foods, but are intelligent and curious enough to try new things, which allows them to thrive on many foods.
American crows are monogamous birds and a mated pair work together to build a nest of twigs and sticks, with an inner cup lined with pine needles, animal fur, or similar soft, finer materials. Nests are typically placed in trees, especially evergreens, but may also be found in large bushes in habitats where trees are scarce.
Eggs and Young
Both parents will incubate a brood of 3-8 pale blue-green or olive-green eggs for 17-18 days. The eggs often show specks or blotches toward the larger end. The young chicks are cared for by both parents for 28-35 days, and unmated birds may assist in hatchling care; it is common for birds from earlier broods to help raise siblings, even in consecutive years. American crows may raise 1-2 broods per year.
American Crow Conservation
American crows are not considered threatened or endangered, though they are occasionally persecuted, particularly in agricultural areas where a large flock can dramatically damage crops. Special deterrents can be useful to keep crows away if needed. These birds are particularly susceptible to West Nile virus infections, and further study is necessary to determine how to protect flocks from the spread of the disease.
Tips for Backyard Birders
American crows readily visit yards offering cracked corn and suet, particularly in hopper or ground feeders that are large enough to accommodate bigger birds. Because these birds can form huge feeding flocks, however, they are often considered a nuisance. To keep them away from your yard, avoid offering these foods and remove outdoor pet food, windfall fruit, and other scraps as well. Keep garbage cans securely covered, and clean up spilled seed to prevent ground feeding. Specialized feeders for smaller birds are also designed to prevent American crows and similar birds from feeding.
How to Find This Bird
American crows are not difficult to find within their range, and they're easily spotted in agricultural or rural areas. Watch for these large birds in noisy flocks, and note their calls, overall size, and tail shape to be certain of the proper identification.
Explore More Species in This Family
The Corvidae bird family is one of the most fascinating bird families, and it includes more than 130 species of crows, jays, ravens, rooks, magpies, and nutcrackers. Interesting birds that are close relatives of the American crow include: